Mara Gulens
September 25

Magic in the Kitchen: Induction Cooktops

There's magic in the kitchen, and it's all centred around induction cooking, that remarkable new technology that makes for a faster, safer, cleaner and even greener way to prepare food.

Heat in the kitchen? Burned pots? Flare-ups? That's all a thing of the past as induction helps to redefine cooking.

Formerly the domain of high-end clientele, chefs and Europeans, induction cooking is gradually coming down in price, and emerging as a hot trend.

"It's probably the hottest thing right now in kitchens," says Erin Jacobs, Assistant Brand Manager for KitchenAid. "Consumer minds have really gone from aesthetics to innovation."

Although still accounting for a relatively small segment of the market (the Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association, CAMA, doesn't even track induction,) the category accounts for up to 30 per cent of cooktop sales at Toronto's high-end Caplan's Appliances, and just under half for appliance manufacturer Miele.

Future Shop says Samsung's lower-priced freestanding induction range will be the game-changer. "2010 is the year that induction is really going to take off," says Todd Coupal, Merchandise Manager of Major Appliances for Future Shop.

"Induction is extremely well-received," says Steve Caldow, Senior Product Manager for Miele Limited. "It has all the things that people like about gas, with neither the dangers nor frustration of cleaning, fires, or getting burnt.

"I think induction will go from being a high-end fad to very broadly accepted," he adds. "As it becomes more affordable and people become more comfortable, it's really a no-brainer."

To date, Caldow says that just under half of all Miele cooktop sales are induction. "Induction has already been hugely successful for us."

The Benefits of Induction Cooking

Induction cooking has been around for several decades, but has typically been very expensive, required extensive rewiring, and was rather noisy. It's only recently that induction is making its way into Canadian homes and becoming marketable.

As explained in an article in our sister magazine here's how! ( an induction element contains a large copper coil: an electromagnet. When the control is cranked up, a high-frequency alternating current passes through it, producing a magnetic field that changes rapidly in direction. The higher the control, the stronger the magnetic field.

Induction cooking is safer: When a cooking vessel is placed on the induction element, the moving magnetic field induces an electrical current in the pot, and the pot's inherent electrical resistance turns that electrical energy to heat. Instead of heating up the pot, an induction element causes the pot to heat itself.

"With induction, the glass doesn't get hot, so there's no burn-in or burn-on," explains Warner Doell, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Samsung's Digital Appliance Business.

That said, even set to max, induction elements can't burn your hand because they don't work until a suitable pot or pan is placed on top of them.

"You can have your hand on a burner full blast and nothing will happen," ensures Steve Preiner, Director of Marketing for BSH Home Appliances. It's also a myth that a ring on your finger will pick up the heat: there's not enough surface to transmit the electromagnetic waves, he says.

Demos are critical with induction cooking. Because the actual element doesn't get hot, just the pot or pan, induction cooking is safer. One could place his hand directly on a heated element and not get burned.

Induction cooking is cleaner: According to an Apex-Samsung study completed last October, 54 per cent of Canadians surveyed consider safety the second most important factor when choosing a cooking appliance.

Ranking first at 83 per cent, however, is cleanability, which is another benefit to induction. Because induction cooktops don't get hot, foods that spill over don't continue to burn, making for hassle-free clean-ups.

Samsung's oven steam-clean function in particular adds another neat cleaning function: add 1.5 cups of water, heat up the oven, and wipe it off 20 minutes later as opposed to the typical self-cleaning functions, which can take three hours at 900-degrees.

One of the advantages of induction cooking is speed. In this demo using Samsung's hybrid induction range, you'll see the pan of water already boiling on the right induction surface after just a matter of seconds, while the left side electrical burner is still attempting to transfer heat.

Induction cooking is faster: The aforementioned Apex-Samsung study also found a third benefit to induction cooking: it's faster. Instantaneous control of cooking energy means that water can boil almost immediately.

"Canadian consumers are time-pressed," says Doell. Whether it be a fast and efficient front-load washer, or a faster cooking appliance, consumers seek out convenience.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the number three consideration when choosing a cooking appliance by respondents to the Apex-Samsung study was performance. Where induction is concerned, that means the speed of a quick boil combined with the accuracy of a gas range.

Samsung's new FE500 hybrid induction range has two induction cooktops and two electrical, along with a stainless, full convection steam oven. It started selling in June for an MSRP of $1,899.

Induction cooking is cooler: While gas blows lots of energy into the air and electrical coils produce excess heat, induction produces no heat, making for cooler kitchen. According to here's how!, the introduction of induction cooktops has meant that CN Tower's restaurant kitchens are now 20-degrees Fahrenheit cooler than they were with electric ranges.

Induction cooking is greener: Induction cooking is also more energy efficient than electric or gas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, approximately 90 per cent of the energy used by an induction cooktop is transferred to the food being cooked, compared to 71 per cent for smooth-top electric cooktops.

"The induction cooktop is 95 per cent energy-efficient," claims Doell. For gas, you put a pot on and lose 40-45 per cent because the flame is exposed. A regular ceran range has 70 per cent efficiency: both the pot and glass get hot. "With induction," adds Doell, "only the pot gets hot. You are at 95 per cent efficiency. Because of the speed, you can boil water in 90 seconds."

"All that energy is put into the cooking vessel, and that cooking vessel becomes the source of your heat, so what you're getting is efficiency," adds John Spyropoulous, Sales Manager for Caplan's Appliances.

Where commercial gas cooktops max out at 18,000 BTU, induction wattage is equivalent to 22-23,000 BTU. "It has the power of gas and the cleanability of electric," says Spyropoulous.

While there are no energy standards with cooking, ceran glass ranges with normal elements use about 600KWH, compared to about 330KWH for a full-induction, says Doell. "The Canadian marketplace will shift to induction in ranges, he says. "There is so much awareness around energy efficiency."

Of course, all the above are also ideal for the condo market in terms of space efficiency, performance and compactness, says Frank Lee, Senior Manager of Corporate Marketing for LG Canada.

Educating the Consumer

While one might think these advantages would make induction cooktops an easy sell, the feeling is unanimous that consumers still need extensive education on the benefits of the technology, and a full understanding of the added requirements, like special pots and pans. Consequently, they also need to be educated about the myths that exist around induction.

Induction cooktops do require special pots and pans made of ferrous metal. "You need enough ferrous or iron to give you that magnetic property," explains Spyropoulous.

Because purchasing an entire new set of cookware can cost up to $600, the equivalent of a cheap electric stove, cookware has been a hurdle, admits Caldow.

Customers then believe that any or all of their existing cookware won't work, says Corey McMullan, Merchandising Manager, Major Appliances and Mattress World for the Cantrex Group Inc. But this isn't necessarily true. Staff at LG randomly visited cookware stores to test iron content of pots and pans, and found that 70 per cent had the iron content necessary for induction.

"With some latitude," explains Lee, "we believe that most of the cookware that people have today would be able to be used if they make the upgrade to induction."

Cooking vessel manufacturers, including LG, have grown with the trend and are now bringing to market products that work with induction. As a result, the number of cookware sets currently being sold that are not compatible with induction has declined.

To do the big home test, retailers can tell consumers to grab a magnet and check the magnetic attraction to the bottom of a pot (which has to be flat). "Don't blindly believe that all your cookware is useless," says Lee. "There's a good chance your cookware has iron in it."

As for the cooktops themselves, side-by-side with radiant cooktops, induction is definitely more expensive. A top-of-the-line 36" radiant cooktop, for example, would cost about $1,000 less than a similar unit in induction. But that gap has started, and will continue to close, says Preiner. And if consumers are coming from gas, the jump is not as steep. Moreover, once consumers do their research and are convinced of the superiority of induction technology, they accept the price differential, he says.

Another point customers need to be made aware of is that while an average home service panel requires 100Amp service, induction requires 50Amps, so consumers will need an electrical service panel adjustment, says Spyropoulous. On the other hand, there's no need to spend on powerful (and costly) ventilation, which is mandatory for high-powered commercial gas cooktops. "With induction, you can really go plain Jane with a basic hood fan," he says.

According to LG's Lee, some manufacturers don't bring up the greater power draw issue because professional installation is an added cost.

[Originally published in Marketnews]

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